Un Petit Village Appelé Usson

Within the Auvergne region of France, there is a tiny village called Usson. This particular place set the foundation of generations of shared memories and repressed grief in my family. However, no one in current living memory can recall anything about it. We have since been “repatriated” and no one has even considered stepping foot back onto French soil since our forced removal… Until me.

This isn’t to say, of course, that members of my family didn’t leave France of their own volition prior to 1907.  In fact, my family frequently left France. I think as Americans people sometimes forget just how interconnected Europe really is; and for Roma, who travel from place to place trying not to egregiously overstay their welcome, that is a very important fact. Truthfully, a majority of my ancestors remained in the Auvergne region of France as it functioned as the hub of familial identity and culture. The “elders” – for lack of a better term – stayed in or quite near Usson as they took control of the family, but their children – once adults – would sometimes build lives for themselves elsewhere. Despite this, we are still considered Manouche (French Roma). That is our identity.

Mimsy, my great-great-grandmother was born in Usson and she was the last. At three years old, her parents gathered what they could and she made her way to America with them. Over time, memories of what they left behind faded amongst us along with our native language.

As an undergrad here at the University of Oklahoma, I have furthered my studies in my two favorite fields: French and History. I had spent a sizeable portion of my childhood pondering the implications the Roma “repatriations” have had on my people. From this, I have finalized the decision to study French as my second major and reclaim some of what was lost to us all those years ago. For the longest time, I have wanted to see France – sometimes I even think that I want to see it “again”. I have, obviously, not actually been to France yet, but I want to see it for my family, not just for myself. It’s time that a Duval returns to our homeland. Usson is a destination that is hard to reach, however. There aren’t a lot of programs catering to an American college student there, but… Clermont-Ferrand is only thirty miles away. OU, also, just so happens to periodically send students to Clermont-Ferrand as a part of University Exchange. That chance would bring me closer to our past than anyone has been in over a century. Isn’t that amazing?

Political Consolidation of Power

A recent topic of conversation in my American Government class has been whether a leader should be allowed to fill important advisory positions with relatives and old friends without regard to actual proficiency in the field. Originally, this topic was debating the appointments made by the current POTUS, Donald Trump. Things like putting his son-in-law in charge of coordinating the efforts for peace in the Middle East amongst his other duties alongside his wife, Donald’s daughter, another high-profile Trump advisor. When that promotion came to light, it wasn’t the first time President Trump’s motivations had come into question and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Another Trump Administration example being the appointment of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of the Department of Education despite her general lack of experience in the educational administration field and well-documented bias in favor of ineffective charter schools – of which she has financial ties. These power moves in Washington D.C. have culminated in Americans seeing political consolidation everywhere. However, there are recent examples where it’s plainly obvious.

Kim Yo Jong – younger sister to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un – was promoted to a high ranking position sometime before the ruling party’s summit in late 2017. (If that sounded familiar, I would ask you read the third sentence of this post again.) No one is yet sure of what exactly this could mean for the governmental policies and foreign affairs in regards to North Korea, but some have speculated that recent cooperation between North and South Korea, such as with the upcoming Olympics, is a good sign for the direction the regime is taking. However, most agree that enough time has yet to pass between her appointment and any major action taken to determine her exact stance on any one issue. Truthfully, Yo Jong has been a member of the regime’s political dealings for many years, though never in a position this high. Though, that is exactly what is causing concern. Other associates of Jong Un who have filled these positions in the past have been swiftly executed upon being deemed a threat to Jong Un’s control. Yo Jong has had a lifetime to build a rapport with her brother, but what does that really mean? Could his sister be a figurehead meant only to fill a seat or does she wield more power than we know?

Define Global Engagement

What is global engagement? Why does it matter?

~*~

A simple phrase composed of popular buzzwords has a special impact on its target audience – whether positive or negative – and “global engagement” is no exception. However, despite how often this phrase is used in slogans and university recruitment messages, morning talk-shows, etc.; it is fairly common for the meaning of the phrase to be overlooked in favor of a sense of omniscience.

The educated enjoy feeling informed, and they should. Being an informed citizen of the world is a tremendously important thing. Truly, it would be almost impossible to live successfully in the very global world we have created for ourselves without such a skill. Nevertheless, what is generally regarded as being “informed” is not the same as being “globally engaged”.

Informed people are your hipster cousin Deborah who’s newest reinvention of herself involves only wearing “authentic” hand-embroidered saris or your brother’s new girlfriend who is “just so shocked” by the underage sex-trade in Russia, the fact that Klansmen still roam the streets of the American South, and every informed citizen’s favorite – starving children in Africa. (Obviously, these are all terrible issues in modern society and I am in no way belittling them. My point is that your brother’s “informed citizen” girlfriend doesn’t care about those children being sold to predators in Siberia or infants dying of hunger in Burundi or any of the other hundreds of human atrocities that flash across her phone screen.) Merriam-Webster’s definition of engagement is as follows: “to be involved or greatly interested in an event or cause. synonym: committed”.

You see, it isn’t enough to acknowledge that these issues exist. On the same note, reading the Wiki page about a culture and extending your wardrobe to include new garments will not make you a “citizen of the world”. There’s an amount of effort required to understand and appreciate or consider things from many different perspectives. It’s easy enough to sit in your living room in Norman, Oklahoma and watch a news story about how teen pregnancy is on the rise in Britain and an entirely different one to think, “How could they take steps to instigate change? Why are children as young as twelve getting pregnant? What could be the catalyst for this? What is the sexual education like there? Do they have access to contraceptives?” It is important to understand the many facets of a situation or culture, not just the surface that is presented to us all.

In short, being “globally engaged” means looking at the world around you and actually giving a damn.

Bonjour et bienvenue à la sémantique “gypsy”!

Bonjour! Je m’appelle Dahlia (a.k.a. The Illustrious Reina Duval). J’étudie le français et l’histoire à l’Univerisité d’Oklahoma. C’est ma première année ici. De plus, mon français n’est pas très bon. So, let’s switch to English.

If you caught all of that, you should know that I am currently a freshman dual-major in French and history at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. (Also, my French is “not very good”. Can you even say that in French? Someone, please let me know.) I’m known for having an exuberant personality and somewhat misplaced confidence. Truthfully, I just don’t see the point in agonizing over how people view you. They’ll either like you or they won’t, so just be… weird.

~Detail Time~

I’m a first-generation college student off to explore the collective history of mankind and learn what could have been my first language. You see, my mother’s side of the family has two distinct branches: white American southerners and Manouche. (There are three options for what you know about the Manouche people: you knew nothing and are waiting for me to explain; you knew nothing and went to Google, finding almost nothing; or you are also Manouche. Leave a comment describing your status?)

The Manouche are a subset of the Roma people or what most refer to as “gypsies”. However, “gypsy” is considered pejorative (a slur) in a lot of these cultures. So, really, if you come into contact with Roma or Travellers in the future, “gypsy” is probably not a good way to go. Now, you might be wondering how you get from gypsy to Roma to Manouche.

The word gypsy has been used to encapsulate many peoples and cultures including the Roma and Travellers. Travellers (or Irish Travellers) come from Ireland, Scotland and (occasionally) specific areas of Scandinavia while the Kale are specific to Finland and Wales. Gitanos (or Gitans) are Spanish-speaking branches of the culture that inhabit Spain and have migrated to Latin America. Sinti people are Germanic (i.e. Germany, Poland, Austria, etc.) and the Manouche roam France.

I am a descendant of a “relocated” Manouche family. (Basically, we were deported.) Said family has since settled in Arkansas, USA. What a transition.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this cultural tidbit and learned something here today.

That’s all the time we have today, folks.

Au revoir!

Día de los Muertos

10/31/2017~11/02/2017

So, this year was my first time experiencing Día de los Muertos in person. I’d, of course, heard about it every year in my high school Spanish classes, but the community I came from had exactly one person of Hispanic descent and Bessie Sanchez knew even less about the subject that I did. So, when my new-found Latina friends requested that I come out with them to “inspect sugar skulls” who was I to deny them?

From a historical and outsider-cultural standpoint, I understood the holiday, but seeing it in action was something else entirely. The skull iconography was something I expected, but somehow all of the bright colors surprised me. Even though I didn’t know what to expect, that – for some reason – wasn’t it. Also, no matter where we went or what we were doing during the holiday, there was always someone offering us food. (That I really enjoyed.) From candied skulls to rice milk and anything dulce de leche, we were practically drowning in sugar every day that passed. It was awesome. Even the Spanish Club (who have meetings on Mondays before myself and the French Club) left out candy for us after they finished hanging their decorations the day before the holiday began. Furthermore, it was the single largest congregation of Catholics I had ever witnessed and – myself being Catholic – was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of rosaries and crucifixes surrounding me at every turn. It was almost humorous.

I won’t say that I gathered an abundance of cultural knowledge during Día de los Muertos, but the explanations my friends provided and the jokes we shared afterward are great memories. (All of the abuelas were very happy to hear that their grandchild had another Catholic friend as well, so that was a confidence booster!)

International Prom

10/06/2017

I would like to start this post by making it very clear that a solid 90% of proms are disappointing. You spend so much money on your hair, nails, dress, shoes, etc. and then sit in terrible lighting while a “hip” friend of the principal DJs and plays Cupid Shuffle for the third time in the last two hours. It’s definitely not all it’s hyped up to be. So, having attended both my Junior and Senior Prom in high school, my expectations for International Prom were fairly low… and they were fulfilled.

A fair few members of my close-friend group are international and they were excited about the experience, so I agreed to go to keep them company. One of these friends loaned me a dress and requested that she be allowed to do my makeup, so of course, I let her. Why wouldn’t I? Hours later, she had curled my hair and painted my nails, winged my eyeliner, and zipped up my dress. With everything set, we left for the Union. Hot. That’s truly the only word to describe it. The ballroom was sweltering and with so many people pressed together, I felt like more sweat than girl. Now, I wasn’t going to ruin the night for my friends, so I did my duty and weaved my way through the gyrating teenagers as songs pounded in my ears that I wasn’t familiar with (though that’s really not surprising considering my atrocious taste in music). I occupied myself with trying to spot outfits that were decidedly cultural instead of the usual tight and strapless number that most were sporting – myself included to some degree.

Nothing of note happened over the course of the next hour and a half except my steady loss of hearing and a few guys forgetting where their hands belong – i.e. not on me. Though it was around the time that I felt another clammy palm brush against my lower back that my friends extracted me from the crowd and decided we would be better off getting milkshakes and watching bad French movies in our dorm. So, as we walked back from the Union, milkshakes in hand, I realized that once again prom wasn’t great, but was no worse than what I had expected.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

10/09/2017

It seems that I’ve found myself a very diverse group of friends this year. Having come from a town where I was often considered the most ethnic member, this turn of events is refreshing, to say the least. I enjoy gathering little tidbits of information about each of their cultures and languages. There was a time that I even considered some form of cultural studies as my major, though that was short-lived. Though, in the end, I didn’t part with my curiosity as I soldiered on with my history degree in mind.

Amongst these friends is a member of the Choctaw Nation who is quite the individual. Some might say that she’s rather too like me for us to be as close as we are, but things have a way of working themselves out I suppose. As the aforementioned date approached I found myself once more surrounded by those wishing to fight to keep “Columbus Day” alive and I, as per the usual, did all I could calmly manage to explain why such a holiday was in poor taste and “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” was a better use of time. Unfortunately, I must now warn you that a rant – quite characteristic of me – is imminent.

Christopher Columbus was an idiotic, sociopathic man with nothing of value to offer the world other than ingenious stupidity. I mean, by most accounts he believed Earth was pear-shaped. (And I put up with none of that drabble about how “everyone thought the world was flat before Columbus’ discovery” considering the globe was a popular navigation instrument of the time. Frankly, the American Midwest needs an educational overhaul, but that’s a Rant by Reina for another time.) I will cease and spare you the endless outpour of my hatred for that man, but I would like to make my distaste clear.

Anyway, I spent the 9th of October on the South Oval and amongst members of several different native tribes taking in as much information as I could during the short time I had. I was introduced to other members of my friend’s tribe as well as people she knew from other tribes across the Mid- and South-West. It was a truly educational experience and not without humor either. I would like to say I didn’t laugh and that it isn’t within me to be so cruel as to document this, but alas… the truth is that I did and I am just cruel enough to do so. A phenomenon we witnessed is one that I myself am quite familiar with as it happens often in my hometown as well. A girl, most likely a first-year but I can’t be sure, was standing with a group of giggling girls all dressed very similarly to her. (This isn’t an uncommon sight and my friends and I have dressed in a similar manner before, so please don’t assume I begrudge them that.) As this group of my extended friends and I stood sipping our coffee, we overheard the girl say something very akin to “I mean, I think we should still just celebrate Columbus Day. Seriously, I mean he did discover the Americas after all.”

Our group was rather miffed, but not shocked as we heard her friend ask whether or not she thought that was rude to the natives. At this point, we were wholly eavesdropping and burst into laughter upon hearing her reply. “No, why should it. I mean, I’m not offended and I’m 1/16th Cherokee Princess. I mean, honestly!” As someone who is, in fact, 1/8th Cherokee… I was unimpressed. However, it was one of the other girls in her group that ended the day with the best thing she could have said without being out-right disrespectful. “Jesus, I’ve heard so many people say that! There must have been hundreds of Cherokee Princesses!”

With rings of laughter echoing out from both the offending girl’s friends and my own, I made my way out of the library and back to my dorm. I engaged in a diverse mix of native cultures that day and was also able to witness the sickest burn of the holiday. All in all, it was a 10/10 experience and I would laugh again.

Monsieur Pierre Bateau

Une hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps.

One wouldn’t think that a heated argument is the best way to begin a relationship, but for my friend Pierre and I, it would be the opening to a long-fought friendship. You see, when I was ten years old the children in my English class were each paired with a pen-pal from Washington D.C. and that was the beginning of the end.

~~~

A mousy little girl had spent most of her time in the previous months continuously checking the same book out from the library. This book was filled with old sayings and phrases that she had become quite familiar with while living with her grandparents such as “walls have ears” and “youth is wasted on the young”. Around this time, Mrs. Kinder announced the names of each student’s partner in what I’m sure she had hoped would be a writing extravaganza. Alas for Mrs. Kinder, after the first two months most of the children stopped responding and eventually the whole project was canceled. However, you might have suspected this was no deterrent to the aforementioned little girl. You would be right.

The one with the terrible misfortune to have been paired with her was none other than a mouthy French boy who had moved to D.C. mere weeks before this whole thing began. It is understood that young Pierre found himself quite upset by the post-script message the girl had included as it read, “One swallow doesn’t make a summer.” She had thought it a nice way to share her new fascination with old sayings… boy was she wrong. Apparently, a similar phrase is popular in his home country of France. He, of course, was obligated to share this information with her alongside a very drawn-out letter detailing how “she was stupid and her stupid words were stupid and wrong.” As I’m sure you can imagine, this went over well with the girl in question.

It took a multitude of angry letters, the word “idiot”, and screaming fits (reportedly on both sides) before the situation calmed. You may be wondering why neither child stopped replying all together. Well, from the girl’s perspective at least, it was an inability to admit defeat. She was stony in her determination to prove him wrong – not that she ever did, mind you. Though eventually, they agreed to a truce and the incident remained buried for the next five years. (The resurgence of that argument is a story for another time.)

It was at this point that we should note this exchange outlasting the others by a solid four months. It would have been longer, but Bobby Jr. was very invested in writing uncomfortable love-letters to a girl whose name very well could have been Vanessa. All in all, a project lasting less than three months became six for Bobby Jr. and poor Vanessa, and now over eight years for that mousy little girl and Monsieur Pierre Bateau – which is even more impressive when you consider the fact that he moved back to Lyon that same school year. Often referred to as being “thick as thieves”, they’ve been through many a hard time while living their separate lives on opposite sides of the Atlantic, but there has never been an occasion when one wasn’t there for the other. Besides, an objective support system has its benefits too. In the end, you never know where you’ll find your friends or how long you’ll have them. It can really be the wildest of stories.

~~~

Seriously, though… is it spring or summer?

Dear Nadina

An open letter to my international roommate for the 2017-2018 academic year:

Dear Nadina,

At the time of this letter, we’ve lived through half of our time together. The past five months have been interesting, to say the least; from culture discussions to late-night Cane’s trips and spending literal hours trying to remember the word “deconstruct”. It’s been quite the experience and it isn’t over yet. (Whether that’s positive or negative changes on the daily, right?) This semester was somewhat of an adjustment for both of us. Before college, I had never been away from my family and you were starting out in a new country. We ranted about each of those things a few times, but for the most part, they fell away without much hassle.

Of course, it hasn’t all been happy times and rainbows. (It’s never rainbows and never will be because frankly, we would both find that tragic.) There have been issues and times of silence and whatever deity is out there knows that we each have habits the other despises with a burning passion alight deep within the soul.

Despite that, it’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed comparing Bosnia to small-town USA, reciting weirdly sexual French poetry from my class as you snicker from across the room, and hearing you recite 999,999 in German because apparently, it’s the longest word in the German language. (Although, waking up to you loudly greeting your mother over video-call is a continual adjustment.) As it is, we both could have ended up with roommates exponentially worse than each other, so this is good. Here’s to another weirdly okay semester!

Best,

My Darling Self

P.S. Economists do it discretely and continuously… and with models.